Commentary: Why the Transgender Day of Remembrance Matters to Black People

The African-American transgender community disproportionately faces violence and homicide. 

Posted: 11/19/2013 01:22 PM EST
Commentary: Why the Transgender Day of Remembrance Matters to Black People

Since 1998, November 20 has commemorated the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes those who have been killed as a result of anti-transgender violence. This day is also aimed at bringing attention to the continued violence endured by the transgender community through out the world.

And while this day may not get the media attention that it deserves, hundreds around the country in places such as New York City, Kansas City, Boise and St. Louis will gather and hold vigils for those whose lives ended way too soon.

And while it’s easy for many of us to ignore this day, we have to face the facts: Violence against the transgender community is most definitely an African-American problem.

Cece McDonald of Minneapolis, Islan Nettles of Harlem, Eyricka Morgan of Newark, Paige Clay of ChicagoCoko Williams of Detroit and Brandy Martell of Oakland are sobering reminders that Black trans folks, especially transgender women, are extremely vulnerable to violence and homicide.

A 2013 report conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that in 2012 transgender people of color were 2.9 times more likely to experience violence compared to white non-transgender folks. Also, transgender women accounted for a whopping 53 percent of murders of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-affected (LGBTQH) community and the Black LGBTQH community accounted for 73 percent of homicides.

It’s very obvious that Black transgender folks are caught in the crosshairs of the intersection of race, sexism, homophobia and transphobia and have very little protection, including law enforcement.

In 2011, a National Center for Transgender Equality and National Lesbian and Gay Task Force survey of 381 Black transgender men and women (pdf) found that 38 percent of Black transgender Americans reported harassment by police, 14 percent reported physical assault and 6 percent reported sexual assault by them as well. Another 35 percent of Black transgender people said that they had been arrested or held in a cell because of transphobia and 51 percent reported feeling uncomfortable seeking police assistance.

And while violence is an important racial disparity in the lives of Black trans folks, it’s important to point out that transphobia plays out in so many other ways, too.

That same report found that 20 percent of Black trans people were HIV positive (the general Black population's HIV prevalence rate is 2.4 percent); 21 percent of those had to leave school because the harassment was so severe; 41 percent have been homeless in the past (five times the rate of the general U.S. population); and 34 percent reported not seeking medical attention when injured or sick for fear of being discriminated against in health care settings. Not to mention, 26 percent of Black transgender people are unemployed (three times the rate of the general public and twice that of the rest of the transgender community.)

And sadly, nearly 50 percent of Black transgender folks have attempted suicide at least once in their lives.

So the question remains: What are we going to do to work through our own homophobia and transphobia to protect all of our community from unnecessary violence and discrimination? Because if we can stand up for Trayvon, Marissa and Renisha, there isn’t any reason why we are turning our backs on our Black transgender brother and sisters.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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